Tronn on our farmland near the South Saskatchewan River
I have just returned from another short hiatus from work and my regular life to be at my Dad's farm in Saskatchewan. I don't normally make as many trips as I have recently, but my brother passed away 6 weeks ago, 2 days short of his 44th birthday.
He was my only sibling and a gem of a human. The only “Tronn 'TK' Tomtene” in the world. He would be there to help anyone if he was able to and had one of the softest hearts I know. I am dedicating this instalment to him.
My brother was an alcoholic and had battled with it since he was 17. I don't envy one single person who has this disease or knows or loves someone with it. I have gone through many stages with him over the years: I enabled, tried tough love, chastised him, coddled him, went to bat for him, empathized, blamed him, drew boundaries, protected him, sympathized, LOVED him and was so frustrated with him at times. The hardest part was trying to separate the human that I knew before this all started from the human that he became at times.
Tronn passed away from liver cirrhosis and suffered from depression and anxiety (due to late childhood trauma).
I ask myself over and over again, what more could I have done to save my brother? When we were at the hospital, I asked his friend, who Tronn had been in rehab with years ago and was still sober, “Why are you sitting in this chair and my brother is in that hospital bed?" He said, “You have to REALLY want to get sober.”
Thing is, I do feel like my brother wanted it. He had tried over and over and over again, but I think at a certain point, his brain and his body weren't even capable of battling the demons anymore.
I have been told for the past 27 years of my brother’s alcoholism that tough love, not enabling and him hitting rock bottom were the only ways he would recover. I am not so sure this viewpoint is the right one anymore. Maybe for some, but not all.
I certainly think the onus is on them to make the decision and the effort to get better, but there is so much research that shows that the part of the brain that would normally cause people to control their impulses is impaired in an addict, along with decision making and many other areas. Perhaps we all can’t be captains of our own ships?
We need to treat it like we treat other diseases - with treatment, awareness and compassion.
The question is then, how do you show compassion but at the same time not allow an addict to be a victim and/or avoid responsibility for their actions? This is the question I have been battling my whole life and I still don't know what the right answer is or what I would/could have done differently.
No matter how I sliced it, I kept losing. My Dad, my Mom and all those who tried so desperately to help him kept losing. He kept losing.
It has been a complicated grieving process and hard to sort out. It is impossible to not feel guilt and sadness over would haves, could haves and should haves, but I have to believe that this journey was one that Tronn or a higher power chose. That he needed to go on this ride to learn and evolve, which he wouldn't have if he were handed an easy peasy life. I choose to believe that he is free from all of his earthly troubles, issues, grievances, sadness and turmoil and that we will always be together, no matter if we inhabit these human suits or not. Our love and our bond is unbreakable.
Being on the farm after losing Tronn made me contemplate life a lot more than usual and helped me get back in touch with our farm roots and the community we grew up in.
I took long sunset walks down dirt roads, spent entire afternoons and evenings with cousins (which I hadn't done in decades!), listened to the birds and the crickets, got dirty doing yard work, chased tractors with my camera (photography has always been my therapy), had coffee for hours with my Great Aunt and took drives with my cousin Brad down the dirt roads I used to know like the back of my hand. I felt like growing things in dirt and envied those of my friends and family who stayed to build a life there. My brother loved our farm and that is where I feel most connected to him.
Lilacs from our tree from me and a John Deere Green solar light from Dad for Tronn.
It was tough to be there at times because of all the memories I have of him and it saddens me so much that we won't spend anymore time there together. But I decided to make the choice to be happy and enjoy my time there by doing all things that he would have loved to do too and stop dwelling so much on the sad parts of his life. I am choosing to remember the good times and to keep his memory alive by reminiscing with the people who loved him. I know that he would want Dad and I to get as much joy out of the time we have left here as we can.
I have a knowing inside, like I did when our Mom passed, that he is with me on those dirt roads, singing along to our favourite tunes and giggling with me at how terrible our singing voices are!
Vita Mutatur Non Tollitur. Life is changed, not taken away.
Tronn's happy place - farming with Dad (left)
The love and support we felt from the community of Birch Hills and beyond, was overwhelming and so many of our friends and fam really made so much effort to carry my Dad and I through this via writing, calling, texting, social media and dropping by the house. Words can't describe how much it all meant to us. Every card, letter, email, text and FB comment did not go unnoticed and helped to ease the pain.
I will end with the letter I recited to my brother at his funeral as well as the slideshow I made to one of his favourite songs, “Dirt” by Florida Georgia Line.
You know you came from it, and someday you'll return to it.
Tronn Tomtene Photo Tribute
Letter to my Brother
I would just like to take this moment to acknowledge everyone who supported and rooted for Tronn along the way, in particular Candice Sinotoski, the Tomtene family, Wes Phillips, the Hagen family, Clayton Pavelich, Rachel Parker, Ryan Cockwill, Daxton Yont and so, so many more, you know who you are and we thank you so much for everything.
To my big bro...Tronn, Fron, as our little cousin Scott Njaa called you, Nnort, as Mom called you - Tronn spelled backwards, Schnuppin, as Dad, Uncle Don, Vern and Stan called you and RoboTronn, MegaTronn and TK as various friends called you…and a few others nicknames I can’t mention here;)
I know you are here beside me and here in my heart. Despite how different we were, in many ways, we were exactly alike.
I felt like sometimes we were so in tune, that I understood you more than I even understood myself at times. And others, I felt like I didn't know you at all. Regardless, my love for you never wavered and I cherished the kinship we had as brother and sister.
I sensed how deeply you felt things from a young age. Your heart was so soft that you used to feel sorry for the garbage we took to the burning barrel!
I must have always felt you needed some extra protection. In Elementary school, when word got out on the playground that the school bully was picking on you, without a thought, I ran up behind him and gave him a swift kick between the legs, just as the school bell rang and ran for dear life to the door where I knew Mr. Galambos was waiting to save me from certain death!
I look back now and know he picked on you because he knew how gentle you were and that he could get away with it.
I have been struggling with so many emotions since we said goodbye. I am trying to find peace in the fact that you don't have to suffer anymore but I still wish you were here and that I could have saved you somehow. If only I had just said the exact right thing at the right time or made you feel just a little more loved, could it have changed this outcome? Through your struggles, I felt like no matter what I did to try and help you in your life, we always ended up in the same place.
What I know for sure, is that your character was strong and that this disease was a fight that is very hard to win. No one could really know the turmoil going on inside of you on a constant basis or what it felt like to be you.
You were a warrior. When I think of the things you went through in your lifetime and the strength that you had to have to endure it all, I am in awe.
I know that I am so heartbroken thinking about how lonely you were at times and that you didn't feel loved. I hope that now, you can see how many people did love you and wanted nothing but happiness and wellness for you.
I know how much you cherished your family and friendships and how much their support meant to you.
I know how much love you had in your heart for not only us but random strangers you felt sorry for on the street.
I know you wanted to find someone to love and have children of your own someday.
I know you were trying. I know you wanted to be well. I know you had a thirst for life and had so many hopes and dreams, but just as many demons.
I know that if I ever needed help of any kind and you were able to give it, you would.
I know that you felt your pain and sorrow so deeply that it was hard to let it go and heal from it.
I know that I will never get over losing you.
I know that I am so grateful for the time that you and Dad and I got to spend together these last few years as a family. I will look back on these times as some of the best of my life.
I know that I will miss you making fun of my hippy lifestyle and I teasing you about your big belly.
I know that growing up with you was a privilege. When I think of our childhood, I think of “Bladley and Blian” Mitchell, Regan Quayle, dirt bikes, summers at Waskesui Lake, riding our little Kitty Kat ski-doo, 3-wheelers, 4-wheelers and skateboards. Making home videos of air bands with our cousins and friends in full hair band make up, banging our heads to Quiet Riot, cruising around in your Impala and singing at the top of our lungs to Nirvana.
I know that you will forever be in my heart and that not a day, not an hour, not a minute will go by that I won't feel like I am missing a part of myself that I counted on for so long and that was always there, but I sometimes took for granted.
I know you loved me. I know you loved Dad. I know you fought hard and made mistakes as we all do as human beings.
There were times I had to love you from afar. And times I made all your problems my own.
I know we had a bond so deep that we could look at each other and know exactly what the other was thinking.
I know how much the farm was a part of your whole being. It ran through your veins and in every cell of your body. It was your north star. Your home.
This is not how any of us wanted to see you coming back here. But I know that you are now wherever you want to be. Just like Mom, you will be with me wherever I am now.
I will see you in the wheat fields, feel you in the prairie breeze and hear you in the chirps of the chickadees...and anytime an AC/DC or Metallica song comes on;)
I love and miss you brother. Your song has ended, but your melody will linger forever.
Your body is away from me
But there is a window open
from my heart to yours.
From this window, like the moon
I keep sending news secretly.
I won't forget you big bro. You taught me a lot and it was a privilege to be your little sis. I MISS YOU. But you can rest now:) Not goodbye, just farewell. <3 br=""> Thank you for reading. My next instalment will be lighter, I promise. Until then, take care and many blessings!
Tronn, Dad and I - Spring, 2015
Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.
And here we are again! The holiday season is in full swing and I have been making jewelry like CRAZY as well as getting the new photo printed clothing ready for selling at markets and local retail stores. It's been a new and exciting experience having a completely new product line. I still love all the other things I do, but it's always invigorating to do something different that you've never done before - a learning experience indeed!
This is going to be one of my big goals for 2017 - variety! I find that so many of my days end up being so similar and I need to change that. So, I am throwing around indoor rock climbing and maybe some salsa dancing?! You know what they say, variety is the spice of life! I am announcing this here so that I will be held accountable to whomever reads this. This will greatly increase my chances of actually doing it and not getting lost in my old routines of always putting work first. I love my work but...I also need to LIVE!
I'll make this pretty short and sweet as I am full on right now getting ready to leave for Make It in Edmonton tomorrow. Here are the deets:
This will be our biggest show yet with over 275 awesome artists, crafters and makers from across Canada at Northlands Coliseum.
Thursday, Nov 24 - 11am to 9pm Friday, Nov 25 - 11am to 9pm Saturday, Nov 26 - 10am to 6pm Sunday, Nov 27 - 11am to 5pm
Ring in the festive season with the Etsy Vancouver Market, your one-stop shopping event for one of a kind gift-giving! Browse our carefully curated design and handcrafted goods made by over 80 local makers and artisans, including jewelry and accessories, home decor, body care, and art!
For the past 22 years, the Women's Winter Faire has been a highly anticipated event: over 50 booths of creative, funky, beautiful, ecologically-sound and diverse items just waiting for you to give them a new home.
Over the past two decades, the door donation has raised over $107,800 for local and worldwide grassroots organizations who oftentimes have less than adequate funding resources.
December 17 and 18th from 11AM to 5 PM at Heritage Hall in Vancouver BC!
Need Your Jewelry Order by Christmas?
Canada Regular parcel - order by Dec 13th (up to 8 business days) Expresspost - order by Dec 20th (1-2 business days guaranteed)
USA Regular - order by Dec 12th (5-8 business days) Expedited - order by Dec 12th (4-5 business days) ExpressPost - order by Dec 18th (4 businesss days guaranteed)
INTL Order by Dec 2nd (min. 6 business days - normally takes around 2 weeks)
Contact me for Int'l shipping upgrades.
Need your Photo Printed Clothing Order by Christmas?
Canada and USA Order by December 11th so your order can ship by the 15th.
INTL Order by November 25th, so your order can ship by December 2nd.
Please contact me if you would like to upgrade your photo clothing order for quicker delivery:)
If you are in the Vancouver area, you can find my photo printed clothing at Giving Gifts on Main and 30th and Favourite Gifts on the 2nd Floor of the Lonsdale Quay Market in North Vancouver!
Thank you so much for shopping local and supporting the handmade revolution!
May you have the warmest, coziest, sparkliest holiday season yet, and I hope to see you out there sometime soon.
Greetings from Rain City! We really lived up to our nick name the last few days with the remnants of Typhoon Songda visiting. What a great time to be inside writing a blog:)
I will cut right to the chase! It is time for me to get ready for upcoming Christmas Shows, so will be ordering new photo leggings and skirts to have printed and sewn. But first, I would love your feedback on which are your favourites before I do!
Simply reply to firstname.lastname@example.org with the numbers corresponding to your favourite leggings (eg. leggings 3, 8, 11) and photo skirts (eg. skirts 4, 6, 7)!
Each one is printed with a photo I have taken locally in Vancouver or around the world. All garments are hand sewn and printed in Canada! Even the fabric is weaved here:) The production process uses significantly less water than others (EcoPoly) and the sublimation inks are solvent free. To see more images of each design, click here.
In appreciation of your time, please use this coupon code for 15% off anything in my Etsy shop!
Mucho thanks! Now onto what's been happenin'!
I ended up doing another market after Khatsahlano Festival called the Art of Photography Show at the Harmony Arts Festival. All of my fellow artisans who do the market circuit will be able to relate to this experience. This is a sneak peek of just how much goes into setting up a temporary retail stall and what can go wrong!
I arrived to my two tents the morning of the show under an overcast sky. I was happy about this as set-up can be quite labour intensive and so some cloud cover meant I could keep cool. Unfortunately, this cloud cover turned into what seemed like a monsoon! I was fighting with the mesh wall panels that Cagey Bee was kind enough to let me borrow (she warned me that hanging them on my own might be a bit of a shit show – she was correct!) when I finally realized that rain water was rising in my tent at a very rapid rate aka my boxes were getting soaked that were sitting on the ground.
So I jumped down from the chair and set up a table to put as much as I could on top of it to avoid further water damage. Some of my prints got a little wet but most of all it was just a big pain having to navigate a huge puddle in my tent - especially trying to keep the white wall panels from dipping into the muddy waters! I soldiered on while trying to keep everything dry and off the ground until one of my sandals finally succumbed to the constant onslaught of moisture.
There was no way to fix them so I went to a nearby coffee shop and asked if there was a store nearby to get some flip flops. They directed me to a Sally Ann a few blocks away where I proceeded to walk barefoot to. On top of this, my knuckles were bleeding from fighting with the wall panels and I was slightly drenched from the rain (first world problems I know!). I could almost read people's minds as they walked by me..."Who's the hippy?! Oh she's probably from that art festival.";P
I managed to find a pair of hot pink running shoes in my size! SCORE! The only shoes that were comfy and a size 8 and $3 - SOLD! By the time I got back, they figured out that a storm drain had been plugged which had caused the flooding. I had arrived at 10AM and finally stopped setting up at 8PM...THE longest set up EVER! This was mainly due to bringing most of my wall art including canvas wood blocks, metal prints and canvas gallery wraps along with the set up of all the fixtures needed to display them (after all it was a photography show!). Sometimes I think I should just make pillows...not breakable, light and easily washable!
No caption needed.
I honestly came home questioning WHY I do this for a living and why I don't just get a REAL job. I was thoroughly exhausted and did not make one sale all day. Prior to this, I spent weeks prepping for it and invested so much in ordering my new line of photo clothing as well as purchasing prints, canvas gallery wraps and metal prints. Of course one cannot control the weather or the traffic flow but it can be very deflating when you put literally your blood, sweat and tears into something which is an intimate extension of yourself and at the end of the day, zero profit is turned. All I could do was just go to sleep and trust that the next day would be brighter. And if it wasn't, there would still be hope for the next.
Luckily for me, it did get brighter both weather and profit-wise! Despite the low traffic, I ended up selling quite a few photo skirts and leggings. Yay! Many women came along who were getting too hot in the sun and tried on a skirt or a pair of capris and never took them off:) On top of this, I met a tonne of really great people and fellow artists which always brightens my soul!
The last day was much the same and I even sold a 20x30 canvas gallery wrap of 'Into the Mystic' taken at Sunset Beach in Vancouver! Despite being so upset the first evening, surrendering and going with the flow was all I could do. I can't control the rain or how many people come to a show but I can control how I look at the situation and choose to flow with life instead of fight it.
A summer highlight was my friend Kristi of Encircled coming into town from Toronto to do Wanderlust. We drove up to Whistler and got her set up for the show and then ended up doing a photo shoot for her sustainable line of clothing at Green Lake. The weather couldn't have been more perfect and we had so much fun (mainly trying to avoid the HUGE slugs on the pathways!) in addition to getting to spend more time together.
Check out Encircled...on a mission to help you pack lighter and do more with less!
To wrap the summer up, I went to my friend Rachel's wedding in Malahat. I had taken her and Sushant's engagement photos earlier this spring (see more here) and I was so looking forward to going to the island again – I hadn't been in 5 years!
BUT, Mercury was in Retrograde. For those of you who aren't familiar with what that means...basically travel, communication and technology are really messed up during this time. If I didn't believe in it before, I do now!! I won't go into the whole story but let's just say it was amazing I even made it as there were many moments (didn't have the right payment method for the ferry ticket, bank machines went down, missed the first ferry due to said payment issues, my car wouldn't start trying to get OFF the ferry, felt very unwell the whole time, almost ran out of gas, sent voice messages to the wrong recipients, the list goes on)! The light at the end of the tunnel was that I actually made it (in the nick of time) to see her get married and it was a beautiful wedding attended by lovely people. On top of that, I got to stay with my friend Stacey in Victoria from high school (we go back 24 years!) and her hubby Aron who I had an awesome catch up with and have been meaning to visit FOREVER.
Live your life as if everything is rigged in your favour. - Osho
The more I have trusted that the universe has my back, the more it is proven to me, over and over again:) Life is happening FOR me, not TO me and every day is an opportunity to grow and evolve.
So that is all for now! Here is a list of where I will be so far for this season of holiday shows. I hope to see some of you out there. More details to come soon:)
Also, if you are in Vancouver, I will be exhibiting in As The Crow Flies. To celebrate its 20th Anniversary, the Eastside Culture Crawl Society is mounting this multi-venue salon-style exhibition! This exciting event features work from 70 artists who have participated in the Culture Crawl over the last 20 years. Juried by Paul de Guzman, Eri Ishii, and Katsumi Kimoto.